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'THE TWIN RELICS OF BARBARISM." 



BY JOHN A. WILLS. 



[ From a letter to the Society, dated March 27, 1890.] 

The facts about my connection with the Republican Convention 
which sat in Philadelphia, in June 1856, about which you inquire, are 
simply these : 

In the spring of 1856, I was residing in the city of San Francisco, 
practicing law, and had been so residing since the latter part of Novem- 
ber, 1853. When I settled there, I had not brought my family with 
me, and, after an absence of two years and a half, I resolved to make a 
visit home to my family in Western Pennsylvania, in the month of 
May. My political status as an anti-slavery man and this intended 
visit home being well known among my political friends — without any 
solicitation on my part — I was, through their agency, I presume, ap- 
pointed by the Republican convention which assembled in Sacramento 
shortly before that time, as one of the delegates from California to at- 
tend the approaching Republican convention to be held in Philadel- 
phia in June, 1856. In order to reach there in time, it was necessary 
for the delegates from California to leave San Francisco about the 
middle of May, and to go by steamship by way of Panama. At the 
time we left, the city was in the hands of the Vigilance Committee. 
We sailed on Thursday, I remember, because the execution of Yankee 
Sullivan and others, by order of the Vigilance Committee, was to take 
place on Friday, the day following. On the steamer I met and made 
the acquaintance of the other delegates from California to that conven- 
tion, and during the voyage we exchanged views and talked about the 
principles and policy of the new party, and of the candidates for Presi- 
dent and Vice-President, to be nominated at Philadelphia. As Califor- 
nians we were mostly, if not all, in favor of the nomination of Col. John 
C. Fremont, of California — " The Pathfinder," — for the office of Presi- 
dent of the United States. For the office of Vice-President we were 
less unanimous in our choice of a candidate. 

When we arrived in Philadelphia and assembled in convention, June 
17, 1856, I found that I had been selected by my 'associates as the 
chairman of the California delegation in that body. I acted, as such, 
during the sittings of the convention. By virtue of that selection, I 
presume, I was also placed on the general platform committee, as the 
representative of California. After that committee organized for 
business, it appointed a sub-committee on which I was placed, together 



THE TWIN RELICS OF BARBARISM. 41 

with the Hon. Joshua R. Giddings, of Ohio, the Hon. Francis P. Blair, 
Sr., of Maryland, and other distinguished gentlemen from other States 
of the Union. In assigning the work to be done by the several mem- 
bers of this sub-committee, the duty of drafting the resolutions in favor 
of the Pacific Railroad, and against slavery in the territories of the 
United States, was assigned to me, because those were the two subjects 
in which California was supposed to be more particularly interested. 
No special instruction was given to me on the subject of polygamy in 
the territories. But as polygamy was already odious in the public 
mind and a growing evil, and as both those social institutions rested 
precisely on the same constitutional basis, in order to make war upon 
polygamy, and at the same time strengthen the case against slavery 
as much as possible, by associating the two together, I determined to 
couple them together in one and the same resolution. Accordingly I 
drew up the two resolutions on those subjects, as they afterwards ap- 
peared in the platform, and I reported them to the sub-committee, 
which considered them and reported them, without amendment, to the 
committee, as a whole. They were approved by that committee, and 
were afterward adopted by the convention, as reported. 

I find the resolution, which is the special subject of your inquiry, in 
the work which is most accessible to me at this moment — in the 
biography of Abraham Lincoln by John G. Nicolay and John Hay, as 
published by them in the May number of the Century Magazine for 
the year 1887, on page 107. It is in these words : 

"Resolved, That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign 
power over the territories of the United States for their government, 
and that in the exercise of this power it is both the right and the duty 
of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — 
polygamy and slavery." 

In regard to this resolution and more particularly in regard to what 
you term the " famous phrase," at the close of it — besides the question 
of its authorship — there is a piece of political history, not generally 
known, which I think ought to be preserved. 

When I reported that resolution in its present form to the sub-com- 
mittee for its approval — strange to say — the Hon. Joshua R. Giddings, 
of Ohio, either moved or suggested, that the so-called " famous phrase" 
should be stricken out, on two grounds — 1st. Because it was not wise 
to use epithets; 2d. Because it was unnecessary to specify " polygamy," 
as it was already virtually included in the term " slavery." To this, 
of course, I was strongly opposed, but as the youngest and the least 
distinguished member of the committee, I would have fared badly in a 
contest with a man so distinguished as Mr. Giddings. Fortunately for 
me, at this juncture, the Hon. Francis P. Blair, Sr., of Maryland, came 



42 HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. 

to my relief. He had been the editor of The Globe newspaper- — the 
official organ of the administration of Gen. Jackson, in Washington 
City — and as an old and experienced politician, he knew the value of 
political phrases, as instrumentalities in political warfare. He therefore 
agreed with me, and opposed the suggestion of Mr. Giddings. After 
argument, and at his instance mainly, it was determined to report the 
resolution as originally drawn. For that reason, I have always felt, 
that whatever merit may be due to me, as the author of the resolution 
in its present form, it was to Mr. Blair, of Maryland, that the Repub- 
lican party and the country were chiefly indebted for the use of that 
"famous phrase" in the Republican platform of 1856, and in the 
political history of the country since that time. The rapturous 
enthusiasm with which the resolution was received by the convention, 
was the first convincing evidence that the committee had acted wisely 
in determining to preserve it in its original form. 

To conclude these reminiscences of my personal connection with the 
Republican convention of 1856, I may add — that after the nomination 
of Fremont as the Republican candidate for President, I was called 
upon, as the chairman of the California delegation, to respond in be- 
half of that State for the honor of that nomination — which I did, by 
running a parallel between Col. Fremont, as the " Pathfinder," and the 
early career of Gen. Washington. In that parallel, the convention saw 
— what, no doubt, it wished to see — an augury of victory ; and of 
course, the speech was received with great applause. In this connec- 
tion, and, as an illustration of the old saying, " Times change, and men 
change with them," I am reminded of the fact, that at the close of my 
speech Judge Hoadley, of Ohio, (afterward a Democratic Governor of 
that State), who stood near me on the platform, congratulated me very 
warmly on the success of my speech — saying, among other things, by 
way of commendation that " with that speech," he " could carry the 
State of Ohio for Fremont." 

I may also add, that at the close of the convention. I was also ap- 
pointed a member of the committee, of which Judge Hoar, of Massa- 
chusetts, was chairman, to visit Col. Fremont in New York City, and 
in order to present to him the resolutions of the convention, and to in- 
form him officially, of his nomination, as the Republican candidate for 
the Presidency in the election of 1856, upon them as its political plat- 
form — which duty we performed a few days after the adjournment of 
the convention. 

For all these fleeting honors, I then knew and felt, that I was in- 
debted solely to the fact that, at the time, I was the representative of 
the young and rising State of California. Such being the fact, I think 
it eminently proper, that the Historical Society of Southern California, 



THE TWIN RELICS OF BARBARISM. 43 

in this city, should investigate the claims of one of her citizens to such 
political honor as may be justly due to him as a representative of that 
State, more especially when that honor is claimed for a citizen of 
another State. For that reason I have cheerfully responded to the call 
made upon me by your society to aid it in its investigation of the mat- 
ter in question. 

Ever since June, 1856, I have always claimed and believed myself 
to be the sole author of the resolution to which you refer and of every 
part of it — now, for a period of nearly thirty-four years. In fact I was 
not aware until within the last year that there was any dispute about 
it, or of any counter-claim made in behalf of any other persbn. / have 
always regarded it as one of the few things which certainly belong to me. 
Within the last year, however, I have heard from my friend and college 
classmate, the Rev. John M. Faris, of Anna, Illinois, that its author- 
ship has been claimed by some newspaper in Chicago (whose name I 
forget), and that upon repeated applications to it by him for its author- 
ity for the claim, made by it, in behalf of the Hon. Walton, a 

former member of Congress from Vermont, he had wholly failed to 
obtain any satisfaction or any authority for that claim. 

What claims Mr. Walton may have to the authorship of the " famous 
phrase," to which you refer, I do not know, but this I do know, full 
well, that I never borrowed it from him, or from anybody else ; for I 
remember the time and almost the very place where the phraseology of 
that resolution first came into my mind. It was whilst walking down 
Eleventh Street in Philadelphia, toward Independence Hall, during 
the session of the Republican convention in that city, and after it had 
been made my duty to report a resolution on the subject of slavery in 
the territories, and the constitutional power of Congress to prohibit it 
therein. 

Fortunately, the question and the controversy, is mostly, if not 
entirely a question of dates, and on that basis it can be easily 
settled. If it can be shown that the phrase in question was used 
by Mr. Walton in Congress or elsewhere, before the 18th day of June, 
1856, and consequently before its use in the Republican platform of 
that date, then he may have some claims to a concurrent author- 
thip of the phrase ; but if not, then he has none whatever ; unless 
it can be shown by him, or by me (as the exigency of the case 
may require), to be one of those cases of parallelism in thought and 
expression, which sometimes occur, and of which there are many ex- 
amples in literary history, when the idea of plagiarism cannot reason- 
ably be supposed. I am aware that the same idea in different minds 
may be independently expressed by them in the same words, and 
sometimes, from the very necessity of language — ju6t as we know, by 



44 HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. 

way of analogy, that the same inventions and discoveries are sometimes 
made, simultaneously or nearly so, by different men, in different 
countries, each acting independently — because they are compelled by 
the laws of being which are the same everywhere, to arrive at the same 
conclusions from the same premises, in their efforts to meet the de- 
mands of public want in society. 

Whether the case in question is an example of that kind, on his part or 
on mine, I shall not now inquire. For the present, I leave Mr. Walton 
or the claimants in his behalf, to show first, if they can, his use of the 
" famous phrase " before the 18th day of June, 1856, before I shall feel 
called upon, in my turn, to explain in the manner just suggested, its 
use by me in the resolution in question. Until that necessity shall 
arise, I shall content myself with submitting the question in this case, 
to the judgment of history, upon the facts and circumstances now pre- 
sented by me to your society for its consideration, and for the final 
determination of history therein, if indeed, so small a matter shall be 
deemed worthy of its serious consideration.